Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 42
 
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
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Local Merchants Remain Optimistic In Face of National Economic Crisis

Dilshanie Perera

“When Wall Street sneezes, the rest of us catch a cold,” said David Newton, vice president of Palmer Square Management. Despite fears of national economic collapse, local merchants are “putting up a united front to a very challenging situation,” he said.

Perhaps it is too early to anticipate how the downturn in the global economic landscape will affect business on the local level, but for now, Princeton business owners are monitoring the situation while maintaining an optimistic outlook.

“One has to be upbeat, and we have to muddle through as best we can,” Mr. Newton explained, while acknowledging that it is “hard to tell if people are buying or not, but a lot of people are certainly mulling around in the stores.”

As far as the overall economic health of Princeton, Mr. Newton called its “diverse economy” a positive attribute. “The pharmaceutical industry, like Johnson and Johnson and Bristol-Myers Squibb, appears to be holding its own, and the University is always an emblem of stability,” he said.

Palmer Square itself is “reasonably full with the list of tenants,” Mr. Newton remarked, adding that “nobody who has been talking to us about space has pulled out, so we remain hopeful.”

Characterizing Princeton as a place that isn’t “into conspicuous consumption,” Mr. Newton said that approach offers “a little bit of protection from the broader economy, since things rarely go up as high, or down as low.”

President of the Borough Merchants for Princeton Kathie Morolda, who also owns the Cranbury Station Gallery, said that she has requested feedback from local merchants about whether they have seen decreased sales, and about their perceptions of the economy.

“Everyone is cautiously optimistic,” Ms. Morolda explained, adding that the past week was quiet, owing to the school holidays in part, and because “it is not a particularly busy time right now anyway.” The economic barometer could be determined more accurately once “holiday shopping starts to occur in a few weeks,” Ms. Morolda suggested.

As for the nature of local business in Princeton, Ms. Morolda emphasized that the town is very supportive of local merchants, and that the relationship is mutually beneficial.

Both Ms. Morolda and Mr. Newton noted that businesses in Palmer Square and downtown would be open until 9 p.m. during the holiday season to allow for more exposure, and increased convenience for shoppers. “There is a lot of activity late at night, and with respect to the gallery, a lot of people browse around after dinner, and they may never have come into the store had I not been open then,” said Ms. Morolda of her own business.

Interim President and CEO of the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce Adam Perle agreed that business leaders are generally optimistic about the situation, adding that “the two things that the area definitely has going for it are the diversity of its population, with strong business leaders and business owners operating at the highest level, and the really strong educational institutions in the area including Princeton University, Rider University, the College of New Jersey, Mercer County Community College, and others. This will allow the Princeton Region to ride the wave better,” he said.

Summing up his own outlook on Princeton’s economic prospects, Mr. Newton said, “if you look at our town like a tree, it has beauty in one sense, with all of the different branches, but when the storm comes, stability is really a function of how deep its roots are, and in the case of Princeton, its roots are quite deep.”

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